(Sunday Best Recordings) David Lynch -- a man who has been described as the most important film director of his generation -- has recorded and released his first solo musical venture. Crazy Clown Time is a title that achieves more than is obvious on first appraisal. The tunes, along with some typically nuanced Lynchian motifs within lyrical content, offer just the kind of familiar surprises that audiences have been half-unexpecting.
Having previously explored musical projects usually tied to his film work and relationships with Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badlamenti, and having penned lyrics and produced misty-voiced Julie Cruise, recent endeavors have come in the form of collaborations with a whole host of notables, from compositions and production work on albums with Jocelyn Montgomery and John Neff, to more recent offerings with producing maestro Danger Mouse, and all the guest artists on 2009's stunning Dark Night of the Soul.
Ahead of this full-length album, a couple of singles were released in November of 2010. “Good Day Today” and “I Know” were as close to Electro-Pop as they were any other genre, yet they were also unlike any Electro-Pop that had gone before. The promise of an impending solo album from a unique artistic force, known best in another field, truly had subscribers to the cult of Lynch aching toward a release date.
“Pinky's Dream” is the show opener, featuring guest vocals from Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O. We're instantly into an echoing, alluvium world, where layers of breath, reverb, and cascading percussion hollow out an unusually weighty presence as the dream opens. “Pinky, tell me; are you laughing / Or are you crying?” From a man who has written and directed some of the most memorable dream sequences in TV and cinema, it's an uncanny first impression. Things are solid but breathy. Things are breathy, but they can't be caught. This is Pinky's dream, but the narrator is not Pinky; why are things so uncertain, so definitely precarious? The sound is an underlining of intention, but the song's self-definition poses as many questions as answers. Just like so many other aspects of Lynch's work, the answers to the charismatic riddles are all right in front of you -- you just need to know how too look, or listen.
A famous practitioner and exponent of Transcendental Meditation, David Lynch takes daily contemplative trips out, or into, the collective unconscious. For the uninitiated, 'sitting' is a difficult practice to define. For those who do it or have even had a glimpse of the discipline that is required to maintain a routine of meditation, the interconnectedness of all things in the universe can be disturbing, or hugely reassuring, depending on the observer's state of mind. Paradoxically, there are no mistakes, and yet there is nothing but chaos. “Strange and Unproductive Thinking” is a pulsing, rolling drumbeat, carrying a robotically treated vocal track and a stream of consciousness that Lynch directs with a deftness of touch that is 'control without control.' This is evidence of a hugely disciplined, meditative mind. At almost eight minutes long, this is the longest track on the album, yet it could go on forever and still remain incomplete -- a tumbling, stone-skipping list of associations cataloging psychological progress, psychological hindrance, archetypical forests, cookie jars, axe-men, toothaches, and the fundamental pinning out of modern philosophy. What Dylan toyed with in the '60s -- snow-balling themes with unique and quasi-characters -- Lynch achieves here with his regular cinematic finesse. We can only lament that he didn't get to this solo music career sooner, but rejoice that he's doing it now, as a master.
Title track “Crazy Clown Time” is a moment of highly accessible avant-garde. It may be one of the least surprising tracks on the album, but it is one of the most reassuring to those familiar with Lynch's visions. The distorted chiming guitar, the perfectly treated snare, and the tempo itself play out beneath a single swinging lightbulb. You just know this is happening in a room with red drapes. You just know that few things are as frightening as a clown, let alone a crazy clown. This is a story in which fabrics are torn, soft parts are exposed, and substances are ingested. There is something languid, unnerving, and deeply, perhaps disturbingly beautiful in the progress of this moment. It's a track that may be reminiscent of moments from Lynch's cinematic career, but they are the great, iconic moments, and now it's happening in song.
Sometimes, when an artist makes a crossover or a perceived crossover between areas of expertise, they rely on carrying fans with them; they transfer credit from one account to another. That will certainly happen with Crazy Clown Time. Fans of David Lynch cannot fail to be impressed at the artist's ambition, as it transposes with such grace from the visual to the musical. Newcomers who may not know the catalog of classics -- the unique approach that marries our inner beauty and our darkest recesses to themselves -- will listen to the album and have that wonderful disorientating thrill of getting to know Lynch for the first time.
Arguably, with this transition, Lynch is making virgins of us all again, just so he can undo reparations and reintroduce us to a whole bunch of new moves, concepts, and designs. The cult-leader is kicking us out, burning down the compound, and inviting us back to play in the ashes, which are so much more than simple ashes. He's showing us something made of carbon, but it's certainly no copy. This is an essential album for fans of the artist in any form, and for students of songwriting, for those who want to access something more than the usual, and for those who like less lazy thinking in music.
Standout Tracks: “Pinky's Dream,” “Strange and Unproductive Thinking,” “Crazy Clown Town”
For Fans Of: Angelo Badlamenti, Recoil, John Cage, Tom Waits, Arcturus